Why We Work: On Security, Purpose and Meaning

We work. But why? “Why we work” seems deceptively simple. On the surface, it’s all about practicality. Money. Survival. Meaning. Purpose. Desire. Ambition. These are the practical reasons that easily come to mind. A job is right for us. But what is your unique reason for getting up in the morning? Work is a necessity, a source of frustration, identity, and sometimes, even a bit of joy if you’re fortunate. Unlike our primal needs for food and shelter, work isn’t driven by pure survival. We’ve added a layer, a complex balance between financial security, personal fulfilment, and the ever-present societal pressure to be “productive.”

I started with curiosity

I wanted to do what made me come alive. The desire to fulfil my curiosities was a major motivator. That has always been my fundamental goal. I wasn’t bothered about money in the beginning. Today, I still work to satisfy my curiosities. But I’ve also been able to make it my full-time income source. I don’t work in the traditional sense. I don’t have a paycheck or a boss breathing down my neck. I process information, distill what resonates with me, and share it in public. Sometimes, I package what I know into courses and books. That is it. I’ve been doing it for years.

Work has always been about what makes me come alive. I’m incredibly fortunate I’m still working exactly how I wanted it: “working on my own terms.” I learn and share what I find in public. It’s fulfilling. I wouldn’t want it any other way. I get to learn new things, pick up new skills, and keep my brain from getting dull. Maybe that next project will teach me something that becomes the key to unlocking some hidden talent (or at least help me dominate trivia night). I work because “something meaningful to do” structures my days. It gives them a purpose beyond the sunrise and sunset. Work challenges me. It pushes me to learn, adapt, and think. It forces me to evolve. It’s a consistent exercise in mental agility, a way to keep my mind sharp and curious.

Is work always fun? No way.

But it’s a process of growth, challenge, and connection. Some days drag, tasks that feel pointless and environments that stifle. Some working days are just better than others. But even on the tough days, there’s a sense of accomplishment in pushing through, in not giving up. Work is lifelong (to some extent), with its ups and downs, moments of frustration and joy. But even then, there’s a quiet satisfaction in simply showing up and sharing in public. The ability to find meaning even in the ordinary makes me come alive.

So, I work.

Not just for the income but for the challenge, the sense of purpose, and meaning. Work provides financial security, yes, but it is also about growth, contribution, and the quiet satisfaction that comes from a day well spent. Meaningful work is freedom to, well, live freely. It allows me to pursue adventures, indulge in meaningful hobbies, and maybe even someday own a shed by a lake to write in solitude.

Work, at its best, is a way of giving. It lets me use my skills, challenge myself, and make a tiny dent in the world. Building something cool in public, solving a tricky problem, or helping others achieve their goals — there’s a certain satisfaction. It’s a way to feel like I’m contributing like I matter. We all contribute our skills, our knowledge, our time. We become part of something larger, a team, a company, a movement. We build things together, solve problems together, and create value together. It’s a way of connecting with the world, however small.

Security is not enough

Financial security is the most pragmatic reason we work. Our jobs provide the means to pay the bills, put food on the table, and maintain a certain standard of living. The undeniable truth is that we work to earn money, survive, afford the necessities and, hopefully, some of the finer things in life. Those are our core motivations. Yet, beneath the simple reasons is a complex paradox — work can mean so much more than just a paycheck. Neglecting the deeper dimensions can leave us unfulfilled and yearning for something more.

Let’s talk more about the practicalities.

Work drives economies. It provides the goods and services we depend on, from the food on our tables to the healthcare that keeps us healthy. We’ve built societies and created abundance. We exchange our time and skills for financial compensation to maintain a desired standard of living. Financial security buys us freedom: the freedom to choose where we live, what we eat, and how we spend our leisure time. Financial certainty means we can build a future, raise or support a family, and take on life’s many responsibilities without losing our minds. Financial precarity, on the other hand, means anxiety and limited options. In this sense, work is a fundamental pillar of a secure and comfortable life.

However, pursuing money alone is a hollow motivator. Studies consistently show that beyond a certain income threshold, additional wealth brings diminishing returns in terms of happiness.

“Foundational work published in 2010 from Princeton University’s Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton had found that day-to-day happiness rose as annual income increased, but above $75,000 it leveled off and happiness plateaued. In contrast, work published in 2021 from the University of Pennsylvania’s Matthew Killingsworth found that happiness rose steadily with income well beyond $75,000, without evidence of a plateau.”

“The exception is people who are financially well-off but unhappy. For instance, if you’re rich and miserable, more money won’t help. For everyone else, more money was associated with higher happiness to somewhat varying degrees.” — Penn Today (March 2023).


Our work provides us with more than just a paycheck; it gives us a sense of identity and purpose. We wear our professions like badges of honour — “I’m a doctor,” “I’m a teacher,” “I’m a software engineer.” These titles not only describe what we do but also shape how we see ourselves. We are more than just biological machines fuelled by basic needs. We all want meaningful work. You search for work connecting to something larger, a purpose transcending the daily grind. Perhaps it’s building a life for your family, contributing to a cause you believe in, or simply feeling the satisfaction of a job well done. That sense of purpose is good for our lives and a crucial ingredient for a fulfilling life. But we settle when we can’t find work that makes us come alive.

Of course, work isn’t always sunshine and roses. Repetitive tasks can be soul-crushing, toxic workplaces can drain our energy, and the relentless pursuit of productivity can burn us out. Work can be a soul-crushing slog that leaves us depleted. We endure the monotony, the tedium, the feeling of being a cog in a giant, uncaring machine. We work because we have to because the alternative — poverty, insecurity — is unthinkable.


Finding work that aligns with our skills and interests is life-changing. We need to feel challenged yet competent to have opportunities for growth and learning. When work becomes a source of continual frustration, it’s a sign that something needs to change. The work paradox is this: while financial security is a fundamental motivator, it’s far from the only one. Work shapes our identity, purpose, and social connections. The many branches of what we do for a living mean our careers are not just a means to an end but an integral part of a fulfilling and well-rounded life.

The “why” of work is a personal question.

There’s no single answer that fits everyone. Some may prioritize financial security above all else. Others may want the intellectual challenge and purpose. Still, others might find their work most fulfilling when it improves their social connection. The key is to be honest with ourselves about what motivates us, drains us, and gives us a sense of satisfaction. Work shouldn’t be a source of constant misery, nor should it define our entire existence. The ideal scenario is to find financially sustaining and personally fulfilling work. But that is rare. We work to survive, yes, but also to find life satisfaction. We work to connect, to create, to make a mark. Work is a necessary burden, sometimes, but also a potential for something meaningful.

Maybe you work for something more than an income: the challenge, growth or connection. Work is a mix of needs and desires, of practicality and purpose. It’s about who we become in the process. See the connection, the purpose, the chance to become. See the human being behind the task. When you find yourself questioning the point of it all, take a step back. Look at the bigger picture. You are more than your work. Work is a challenge. It’s one of the many ways to become the best version of yourself.